Meet the Member: Pilgrim Foodservice
Going above and beyond has paid dividends with customers
Customers sit at the heart of everything at Pilgrim Foodservice. Whether it’s the modus operandi of the 270-plus staff busily working around the site, the significant investment into providing extra value or the little details covered at every turn.
The promise of listening to customers may be one that many businesses make, although as Managing Director Charles Bateman explains, there is tangible evidence of the impact their words have had on the Boston-based foodservice wholesaler.
“We’ve really got to understand what our customers are dealing with day in and day out, and help them plug that gap,” says Bateman, who took over the reins of the company from father Peter a few years ago.
“The good understanding we have of our customers helps us if there’s a new product we need to bring on board or an investment to make in our facilities. If you look at the way our business has grown over the past eight to 10 years, everything we’ve done is down to our customers.
“It’s all about looking at where our customers are going and helping them along on the journey because it’s all about service, but no longer just delivering a product right and on time, also understanding their business too.”
With the growth of the foodservice sector showing no sign of slowing down, it’s the right time to be investing.
The Caterforce buying group member offers a 24-hour service – with next-day delivery capabilities – that taps right into the experts providing the food. If customers want a specific ingredient produced in a bespoke way, the team is on hand to make it possible.
With a development chef, a raft of fully qualified butchers armed with the tools to do most jobs and a dedicated veg-prep facility that can prepare groceries however customers want them, Pilgrim is more than just a stockroom provider.
And as the company’s headquarters offers all these services in one fully equipped location, there’s no surprise that customers can regularly be found on site tours or meeting with key members of the team to ensure they get everything they need to pass on to their diners.
“For me, doing a trade show is really good and one day we might look at that too, but where we really buy into our customers is understanding where they’re going as a business – and for them to get that with us, they need to come in and see what we do,” Bateman adds.
“We’ve got a lot of relationships with customers that go back decades and that’s what I want to continue to do. So it might take a bit longer to get the customer on board, but as soon as they understand what we can offer them, hopefully it’ll be a no brainer.” As Wholesale News is taken on a tour of Pilgrim’s site, it becomes clear why that approach is working so well.
The visit begins at the back of Pilgrim’s property, a tall building with its own sign containing state-of-the-art butchery that drives a point of difference to others in the foodservice wholesale industry.
Housing a team of 18 skilled butchers, the site is kitted out with the expertise and knowledge to run a slick operation that provides bespoke meat options with relative ease. With no expense spared on quality, the butchery is fully equipped to deliver top-class service.
The investment, which included bringing master butcher Chris Jelley’s business, CJ Butchers, under the Pilgrim umbrella, is an indication of the company’s future vision.
“From a business perspective, we don’t go into things half measure,” explains Procurement Director Phil Parker.
“The butchery we purchased was on reputation – they know everything they need to know about meat.”
“What we gave CJs was the customers and investment behind it. It’s the confidence in the future that we’ll need to provide this standard of service. We could have done it smaller, but we don’t want to be upgrading again in three or four years’ time.”
Deliveries arrive at the butchery five or six times a week, with everything that enters the site stringently checked to ensure that it’s of the required standard, while a record of traceability is kept so each piece of meat can be followed back to source.
The additional space means there’s no risk of cross contamination between meats, while the team of qualified butchers do everything by hand – ensuring high quality and that any bespoke orders for customers are carried out to perfection.
There’s even a dry-aging room, where meat can be dry aged next to a Himalayan salt wall to an exact specification.
“All our team knows exactly what to do with each piece of meat,” Butchery Manager Jelley says. “If you compare us to a boning hall, for example, everyone would stand in line and have their own job, whereas our butchers can debone a carcass, produce mince, steaks or hand-diced lamb – they all know and can do every job.”
THE VEG-PREP FACILITY
Another big investment was the veg-prep facility, which was transformed three years ago into a bigger operation.
Originally just a single room in the same building, Pilgrim prioritised improving its processes, making the team more productive and delivering more high-quality goods.
Once more, the focus in production is on the extra care and attention of getting food right for customers.
There are no production lines and everyone plays their part in achieving high standards by pitching in on whatever task needs doing.
Roughly three-quarters of the facility’s output is potatoes and after entering the building through a large-scale industrial peeler, each spud is checked by hand before being chopped into quarters – or sliced into chips – ready for customer delivery.
While a standard product is the basis of Pilgrim’s output from the veg-prep facility, they remain flexible to the individual needs of each customer.
An array of machinery chops, slices and vacuum packages veg to maintain its freshness for delivery, while the team can easily adapt to orders as and when they arrive, which means wastage is minimal.
“Customers visit us and ask us to package certain vegetables in certain ways, or to provide mixes – such as coleslaw or stir fry – that they’ll find useful having together,” Prep Supervisor Aidan James tells Wholesale News.
“We always find a way to give customers what they want, so our product offering grows to accommodate each of their needs.”
THE DEVELOPMENT KITCHEN
Managing Director Bateman admits he wanted to hire Development Chef Mike House as soon as he met him.
A former customer, House worked closely with Pilgrim to get the fine-dining products he needed when he was working as a head chef and the relationship blossomed from there.
Now House works in Pilgrim’s development kitchen and regularly plays host to customers to show off its range and work with them to adapt it for their own needs.
On the day Wholesale News is visiting, the chef and owner of The Mermaid Inn in Spalding are spending some time with House, as he rustles up Pilgrim’s new plant-based, low-calorie burger.
As House and the customers chat together about menu options, it’s clear what extra value this exercise offers. By letting the chef try the food and discuss menu options, a stocklist becomes real and makes them much more likely to try something new and innovative.
House is also at the forefront of creating bespoke options for customers and will work with them to mastermind a new spice mix that is then used to create a batch of burgers in the butchery.
As with everything else at Pilgrim, having a development chef on hand with knowledge and expertise adds a sprinkle of extra value to the company’s offer.
Next door to Pilgrim’s offices lies its warehouse operation loaded with all the extras customers need on their order. While Pilgrim’s warehouse isn’t awash with visiting customers buying products, the depot is highly organised and always kept in a presentable condition.
Each part of the sizeable depot has distinct storage jobs. One section stocks ambient products, while another keeps items refrigerated – a facility that came in incredibly helpful during last summer’s prolonged hot spell. Although as Parker reveals, the warehouse team wouldn’t have known it was so warm outside while in the depot.
“We always maintain and monitor the temperature of the whole warehouse,” he says. “This means that no special arrangements need to be made depending on the temperature, which is most efficient and best for storing a variety of products.”
A freezer that stays at a chilly -19ºC takes the mercury down even further, while a storage room for all grocery products stocks everything from more commonly used fruit and veg, right through to specialist items, such as edible flowers.
Pilgrim lorry drivers visiting the warehouse also have an array of services to take advantage of. Directly outside the loading and unloading bays, ports to wash vehicles inside and out, refuel and charge up transportable chillers mean that any product leaving Pilgrim’s site should be carried in a lorry that looks the part.
“The first thing our customers see of Pilgrim are our vehicles,” Parker adds. “It’s important to us that they’re of a high standard to give the right impression – and that’s why we’re proud to have industry accreditations across the entire site.
“It just shows our customers that we’re always aiming to go the extra mile to deliver the best possible service.”